Six months into your new job, your supervisor says, “Todd, that’s a terrific proposal. We’re having an all-department meeting tomorrow. Be ready to present your ideas.” Whoops! Whether your department numbers six or 106, you are about to make a public presentation of paramount importance to your career.
Are You Ready?
For a lucky few, giving dynamic, attention-grabbing speeches is a piece of cake. But for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally. Companies now place increasing value on good communications skills; you need to learn to feel totally at-ease behind the podium. Here are some tips:
- Volunteer to lead a discussion group for your department before you’re put on the spot and you have to.
- Take speaking engagements with your professional association or local Chamber of Commerce.
- Give a speech at your local Kiwanis or Rotary luncheon
- Be the at the next meeting of your Camera Club, or Book Discussion Group, or Scout meeting.
Remember Ross Perot?
Remember his salesmanship? He was a member of Toastmasters International for awhile. Toastmasters is a club whose main purpose is to help members hone their public-speaking skills. The organization celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1999 with a membership of more than 178,000 in 8,500 clubs and 70 countries.
Try following in Perot’s footsteps and joining your nearest Toastmasters to get the speaking experience you need. (Okay, he never actually won the presidency, but he’s done all right in life thanks to his speaking abilities.) Many large corporations now actually have in-house chapters of Toastmasters for the convenience of employees who’d like to brush up their speaking skills.
As a Toastmaster, you will learn how to:
- Prepare and give better presentations
- Give and objectively receive constructive criticism
- Build management skills
- Answer impromptu questions
- Run and participate in meetings
Organization Is Key
Nobody remembers speeches. But they will remember YOU if you are organized. According to Canadian speechwriter Matt Hughes in Management Review, the average business speech audience will retain no more than two or three new facts from your 20-minute presentation. Pare your facts ruthlessly; deal with the essential information you want your audience to take away.
Communications consultants Wilma Davidson, Ed.D, and Susan Kline in Journal of Accountancy, March 1999, suggest dividing your presentation time into three blocks.
- The first 20 percent is when you tell your audience what you’re going to tell them
- Use 70 percent of your time to expound on your message with the appropriate facts, examples, or anecdotes
- During the remaining 10 percent tell them what you told them by restating the theme
If you make it easy for your listeners to follow you, they’ll follow you anywhere. Poor organization leads to a squirming or dozing audience, along with frustration for you, the speaker.
Start with a positive image of yourself in front of the crowd. Think: “What if the audience really ENJOYS what I do?” rather than “What if I fail?” Look happy and self-assured. If you don’t feel that way, pretend you do. As Shakespeare said, “Assume a virtue if you have it not.”
Picture yourself before an audience:
- Confidently stepping forward
- Listening to the hush fall as you begin
- Feeling the audience’s anticipation as you enthusiastically drive home your few points
Run the whole process in your mind several times the night before and the morning of your event. “See” a whole movie of your performance, including your standing ovation. “Experience” the pleasure you’ll feel from your listeners’ positive responses.
Winning the Battle
Winston Churchill, one of history’s great orators, overcame a lisp and the lack of a university education to lead England for nine crucial years. Your goals probably do not include leading a nation at war; however, you need all the help you can get to triumph on today’s corporate battlefield. Effective speaking is one more powerful weapon to add to your arsenal.